Reverse Speech Theory

By Merle

Communication takes many forms. Our bodies communicate through body language, our eyes reveal the sensory modality we use to construct any thought which immediately becomes speech, and speech itself takes more than one form.

Our conscious speech, which will be referred to as forward speech, is not the first speech to emerge and to reveal the level of our language development. As early as four months of age a form of communication called reserve speech is used by some infants to communicate needs. So far as we know, all infants begin aural communication as reverse speech with forward speech developing some months later. Reverse speech merges with forward speech and the two are normally emitted simultaneously before the age of two years.

Reverse speech often is complementary to forward speech in that it enlarges upon the message, amplifies it, and broadens the scope. Reverse speech may also negate the forward message, or it may be an internal dialogue which has nothing to do with the message of forward speech. Unlike forward speech, much reverse speech is difficult to understand without specialized training Reverse Speech Theory.

The messages we get in reverse speech are referred to as reversals. Reversals may often be found in dialogue with a great deal of emotional content, sometimes coming seconds apart. In normal conversational dialogue reversals are usually found no further than 15 seconds apart.

Reversals are rated on a scale from one to five with five being the clearest. A five reversal is almost as clearly heard as forward speech. A reversal with a rating of one is very unclear and is detected with much difficulty. Rating a reversal has to do with the clarity of the speech reversal.

Another component of the reversal has to do with the language it contains. Reversals are categorized into 12 types. Categories are determined by the way the reversal complements, expands, contradicts, mirrors, emphasizes, and in some way relates to the forward message.

Usually, monologues, speeches which are read, and lectures have very few reversals, if any. As mentioned above, most reversals occur during conversational speech which has emotional content.

The phenomenon of reverse speech may be most readily explained by the dynamics of Carl Jung’s model of the psyche. His model breaks down into three categories, 1) Consciousness, which Jung said “is an intermittent phenomenon… Every night we sink into unconsciousness, and only phases between waking and sleeping have we a more or less clear consciousness. To a certain extent it is even questionable how clear that consciousness is.” Everything passes into consciousness by way of the unconscious according to Jung. Sense perceptions, objects and events all become conscious for moments and then pass out of consciousness as our awareness shifts to something else or turns itself off. The relationship between the conscious and unconscious states is extremely complex. 2)Personal unconscious is made up of contents which have disappeared from consciousness through having been forgotten or repressed. 3) The collective unconscious Jung describes as “a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually, but is inherited. It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes.”

The inheritance of this collective unconscious can well be explained by the phenomenon of reverse speech. Reversals are not initiated by our conscious psyche so far as we can determine. It appears that they have their origin in the collective unconscious. Support for this is in the language we use for reverse speech. Metaphors and archetypes are sprinkled throughout reverse speech and we must know the meaning and intent of these symbols if we are to understand the message sent by the reversal. Reverse speech may explain how each of us gains our collective unconscious. David Oates and others have shown that each of us picks up metaphors from others and use them in our reverse speech, even though a metaphor may be a personal metaphor specific to one person. These metaphors and archetypes are used only in our collective unconscious (reverse speech) and are not seen in our conscious speech.

Although reverse speech is largely an unconscious activity, a good interviewer can elicit reversals, even reversals of a specific metaphorical nature. It takes training and a great deal of practice to use these communication tools.

Reverse speech has found a hook-up not only with Carl Jung’s theories, but also with the theoretical base of Psycholinguistic Programming (NLP). The eye movement detection which reveals the sensory mode of the cognitive pattern construction can also reveal the mode in which a person is constructing reversals. If eye movement can be observed along with forward dialogue, there is much information to be gained from correlating these with the reversals.

Returning to the messages we glean from reverse speech, we see that much of the reverse speech dialogue is couched in the same language as we use in forward speech. So we have language that we use consciously being used in reverse speech with interspersals of metaphors and archetypes. If all reverse speech was in the language of metaphors or archetypes, it would be much more difficult to decipher.

Finding reversals to interpret is the crux of reverse speech. Seventy-five percent of training and practice time is spent on locating reversals in reverse speech. They are normally found in dialogue of emotional content where the voice trails off into mumbles, where we stutter, where we repeat or where we back up and take another direction in our conversation.

The usual way to find reversals is to play a tape through to the end and reverse the direction of the tape slowing it to a speed which accommodates the listener. When the listener hears sounds which may be words, the tape is reversed to hear forward dialogue, the reversed again to hear the speech reversal. After this operation is repeated four or five times, and no clear message is forth coming, one can assume it was gibberish that was heard and continue on looking for reversals. When a reversal has been established, the exact forward dialogue is noted along with thepoint where the reversal begins and ends. In this manner, an entire tape is transcribed.

The transcription is validated with the subject of the interview as to its content. Transcriptions are held in strictest confidence and should be known only to the transcriber and the subject.

This confidentiality must exist for the benefit of the client for this person may be in psychotherapy or the client may be in the criminal justice system where confidentiality could mean the difference between a trial verdict which stands and a mistrial.

Possible uses for reverse speech other than psychological analysis, and criminal justice, is therapeutic use with children, therapy with the dying and validation of charges of abuse which children may lodge against adults. Reverse speech may also be used in espionage activity, as a part of interviewer techniques in personnel offices, and to aid sales persons. The uses it can be called to serve in detecting dishonest, wayward, or hidden communication is unlimited.


Jung, C.G. Analytical Psychology: Its Theory and the Practice (Vantage Books edition 1970) New York: Vantage Books, 1968.

Collected Works, Vol. 9i: The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Princeton: Bollinger Series, Princeton University Press, 1969.

Robertson, Robin. C.G. Jung and the Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious. Peter Lang: American University Studies, 1987.1